Clear the Atlantic of the German Menace


By FRANK KNOX, Secretary of the Navy

At Dinner given by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Company to the Governors' Conference at Fore River, Massachusetts on June 30, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 590-592

I AM speaking to you out of a deep sense of my responsibility and as the civilian head of the American Navy. I address you, the responsible leaders of the people who live in your respective states. As I speak, we are in the midst of a world wide war, and in an hour of the gravest national peril. At such a time, and under such circumstances, one must measure his words with care. I do this when I say to you that everything we cherish is directly challenged by a ruthless dictator who grasps at world dominion. This threat to our own institutions, our hard won freedoms, our very way of life, comes nearer, and becomes clearer, every day.

Hitlerism began with the destruction, by illegal and corrupt means, of the democratic institutions in Germany. It expanded its territory by the rape of Austria. It achieved a further extension by destroying Czechoslovakia, under thecolor of protecting a German minority in that nation. Despite a recently signed treaty of non-aggression, and reiterated protestations of friendship, it spread its dominion by the massacre of Poland. Not content with conquest, it is now engaged in the deliberate extermination of the Polish people. It spread to the north, across the borders of Denmark, by stealth and duplicity, then to Norway which it subjugated by a combination of treachery and ruthlessness.

If forced the submission of a gallant fighting Finland to Communist Red Russia, of whom it made a temporary ally. It interposed no objection the while Russia destroyed the liberties of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Despite repeated promises of immunity and non-aggression, it swept with its armored might over the low countries and made of their people its chattels.

It dealt with an ill prepared and politically chaotic France in similar fashion, seizing and holding a million and a half French soldiers as hostages to insure that a defeated, demoralized France should do its will.

It encountered defeat, for the first time, when it reached the waters of the English Channel, and fought an unsuccessful battle in the skies over England.

Turning to the southward, in succession, it chained to its chariot wheels Hungary, Roumania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Greece. It made of Italy a junior and subordinate member of its plunderbund when it rescued that nation from disastrous defeat in Africa and on the Mediterranean by British sea, land and air forces.

This is the appalling record of this new and modern Genghis Khan.

Within the past week, Hitler has turned on his dupe—his quasi-ally—Stalin and swung into action against Russia, 160 divisions of its army, supported by a powerful air armada. For eight days now, this attack has been proceeding. Despite Russia's backwardness in things military, she has assembled to confront the Nazi army a huge army of its own. Granted that Germany possesses a far more efficient war machine and in spite of the unquestioned superiority of German military leadership, to conquer Russia with her immense territory and her millions of soldiers, is a task which is bound to consume vital months in this crucial year of 1941.

For the first time since Hitler loosed the dogs of war on the world, we are provided with a God-given chance to determine the outcome of this world-wide struggle. Now is the time to put into motion the huge machine we have been building since the war began. Our world has been challenged by a pagan force that seeks to destroy the very fundamentals of a Christian civilization. We can insure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the defeat of that pagan force and insure a victory for a Christian civilization.

Only the other day, a great leader of the Catholic church in America made an eloquent and an appealing declaration that men of his faith put a high value upon the dignity of the individual, in contradiction and denial of the totalitarian precept that every man and woman and every child belongs to the State. He declared this war to be a war of Satan, a war of the flesh, a war of Paganism. The views thus eloquently expressed by this Catholic prelate are the views of America, regardless of creed. It is this cause that summons us. If we fail, civilization fails, and a brutish Paganism triumphs. We cannot fail.

We have progressed to our present posture by a slow and patient course of statesmanship under the lead of the President.

First, we joined with all other American Republics in an agreement of common defense. Then, more than a year ago, we launched the greatest program of national defense in the history of the world and are now carrying that out ahead of schedule. We are adding daily to our splendid Navy—now the greatest in the world—and we have mustered a new army of a million and a half man power which has already demonstrated its worthiness of our finest military traditions.

We have initiated and are carrying out a policy of aid for the democracies, climaxing this unprecedented course with the passage of the Lend-Lease bill and an appropriation of seven billion dollars to give it effect. That lend-lease law which culminated this program of aid, was proposed by the President, received the overwhelming endorsement of the American people, and was enacted into law by overwhelming non-partisan majorities of both houses of Congress. Thus, aid to the democracies became the settled and established policy of the United States. The President, reinforced andsupported by the people, through the operation of their democratic institutions, has said that it is insufficient to merely produce articles of defense to aid those fighting Germany; he has said also that those articles must be delivered where they can be used. The President declared this should be done; this will be done; this must be done. Thus, in the most solemn fashion, the actual delivery of our aid is a part of our pledge. Now is the time to fulfill that pledge.

Momentarily, Hitler has turned his back upon us. Contemptuously, holding our proffered aid to be a futile and empty gesture, since we were permitting it to pile up, undelivered, on our docks, he has turned upon his quondam partner and is treacherously reducing Russia to a slave state in his new order. While his back is turned, we must answer his obvious contempt with a smashing blow that can and will change the entire world perspective.

If, while Hitler is assaulting Stalin, we can clear the path across the Atlantic, and deliver, in safety, the weapons our factories are now producing, ultimate defeat for Hitler is certain.

To show how vital it is that we shall make the Atlantic crossing safe, which we must and can do, let me cite the figures of losses by sinking in the last five months ending May 31, 1941:

The total gross tons of shipping lost in that period was 2,198,000.

This was divided by months as follows:

January ..... 309,731 tons
February .... 339,833 tons
March ....... 505,750 tons
April ....... 581,251 tons
May ......... 461,328 tons

This is at an annual rate of loss of 5,275,000 tons.

To emphasize what such losses mean, let me cite one ship recently sunk which carried 1,000 machine guns and 1,500,000 rounds of ammunition. Another one, within the last few days, was sunk carrying an equally valuable cargo which included a huge amount of high explosives. On many of the ships that have gone down in the North Atlantic, there were planes, tanks, and thousands of cases of food. For every ship sunk, there is that much loss of food to sustain the morale of the British people, and to arm their soldiers, their sailors and their airmen in the gallant fight they are making against the Nazi horde. We must remember that for every ship that we, and the British, are now building, three are being sunk, and not only the sunken ship is lost, but also the planes, the guns, the ammunition and food which it carries.

There is only one end to the rate of sinking—victory for Hitler which will give him ultimate domination over the world.

To live, and fight, and win, Britain needs food and oil and guns and planes in ever increasing quantities. Britain does not produce enough of its own food on which to live. She does not produce enough oil in the British Isles to operate its planes. She does not produce enough steel and aluminum and planes to carry the offensive to Germany and defeat Hitler. She must get all of these things from us. She must get them not at New York, or Boston, or Halifax. She must get them at places where they can be used. Every pound of food, every tanker filled with oil, every ship filled with planes, which is lost, makes Britain's case more desperate and endangers the more our entire civilization.

At this time, while Hitler is busy crushing Russia, we are presented with an opportunity to vitally aid Britain. We can help Britain strike at Hitler by giving her the means to bomb the plants which make Hitler's oil, his planes, hisguns and other material of war, and by cracking the morale of the German people. Thus, we can help make them understand the cruelty and ruthlessness which Hitler has unloosed upon the world. This can only be done if the passage across the Atlantic is cleared for traffic, and if the ships which carry the oil, the planes, the guns and the food are not sunk. An all-out offensive that will destroy Hitlerism can only be undertaken if the products of the huge war industry which we are completing find their destination on the British Isles promptly and safely.

Again I say, now is the time to strike. And, saying that, I would be derelict if I did not add that all of this involved risk and danger. It may involve sacrifice to the uttermost. When force is turned loose in the world—force directed toward the destruction of the institutions of human freedom—that force can only be met with a greater force—force without limit or stint. We must create, as a great American once said: "A righteous and triumphant force which shall make right the law of the world, and cast every selfish dominion down in the dust."

America must wake up, not alone to its danger—and the dangers are real and fearsome, but to the realities of thesacrifice demanded. We must, if need be, match with American tears, American toil, American sweat and American blood, the toil, the tears, the sweat, and the blood which Britain has gallantly spent to hold in check the devastating spread of Nazi power throughout the civilized world. To us is given, through the inscrutable ways of God, a challenge, and a responsibility. We cannot meet that challenge—we cannot discharge that responsibility, by working five days a week and eight hours a day; by putting the need and necessities of civilian life and comforts ahead of the hard necessities of national defense. We cannot cling to any formula of "business as usual" and profit as usual, when our business has become the halting of the Hun in his triumphant march toward dominion over an enslaved world in which the light of liberty will be snuffed out, and men everywhere must bend a pliant knee to a pagan tyrant.

I can find no better words with which to close than to repeat the gallant words of my Commander-in-Chief, to which I subscribe from the bottom of my heart: "I would rather die on my feet than live on my knees."

The time to use our Navy to clear the Atlantic of the German menace is at hand.